Herbert Zimiles has written a provocative article on quantitative research. Because his specific critiques of research on infant day care are nominal examples of his much broader arguments, we focus only on his general methodological perspectives in this brief comment. We write as methodologists, a qualitative researcher with a quantitative background (Walsh) and a quantitative researcher completing a book on qualitative research (King and see King, Keohane & Verba, in preparation).
Gary King. 1993. “The Methodology of Presidential Research.” In Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches, edited by George Edwards III, Bert A. Rockman, and John H. Kessel, Pp. 387–412. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.Abstract
The original purpose of the paper this chapter was based on was to use the Presidency Research Conference’s first-round papers– by John H. Aldrich, Erwin C. Hargrove, Karen M. Hult, Paul Light, and Richard Rose– as my "data." My given task was to analyze the literature ably reviewed by these authors and report what political methodology might have to say about presidency research. I focus in this chapter on the traditional presidency literature, emphasizing research on the president and the office. For the most part, I do not consider research on presidential selection, election, and voting behavior, which has been much more similar to other fields in American politics.
In their 1990 Review article, Ian Budge and Richard Hofferbert analyzed the relationship between party platform emphases, control of the White House, and national government spending priorities, reporting strong evidence of a "party mandate" connection between them. Gary King and Michael Laver successfully replicate the original analysis, critique the interpretation of the causal effects, and present a reanalysis showing that platforms have small or nonexistent effects on spending. In response, Budge, Hofferbert, and Michael McDonald agree that their language was somewhat inconsistent on both interactions and causality but defend their conceptualization of "mandates" as involving only an association, not necessarily a causal connection, between party commitments and government policy. Hence, while the causes of government policy are of interest, noncausal associations are sufficient as evidence of party mandates in American politics.
As political scientists, we spend much time teaching and doing scholarly research, and more time than we may wish to remember on university committees. However, just as many of us believe that teaching and research are not fundamentally different activities, we also need not use fundamentally different standards of inference when studying government, policy, and politics than when participating in the governance of departments and universities. In this article, we describe our attempts to bring somewhat more systematic methods to the process and policies of graduate admissions.
As most political scientists know, the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election can be predicted within a few percentage points (in the popular vote), based on information available months before the election. Thus, the general election campaign for president seems irrelevant to the outcome (except in very close elections), despite all the media coverage of campaign strategy. However, it is also well known that the pre-election opinion polls can vary wildly over the campaign, and this variation is generally attributed to events in the campaign. How can campaign events affect people’s opinions on whom they plan to vote for, and yet not affect the outcome of the election? For that matter, why do voters consistently increase their support for a candidate during his nominating convention, even though the conventions are almost entirely predictable events whose effects can be rationally forecast? In this exploratory study, we consider several intuitively appealing, but ultimately wrong, resolutions to this puzzle, and discuss our current understanding of what causes opinion polls to fluctuate and yet reach a predictable outcome. Our evidence is based on graphical presentation and analysis of over 67,000 individual-level responses from forty-nine commercial polls during the 1988 campaign and many other aggregate poll results from the 1952–1992 campaigns. We show that responses to pollsters during the campaign are not generally informed or even, in a sense we describe, "rational." In contrast, voters decide which candidate to eventually support based on their enlightened preferences, as formed by the information they have learned during the campaign, as well as basic political cues such as ideology and party identification. We cannot prove this conclusion, but we do show that it is consistent with the aggregate forecasts and individual-level opinion poll responses. Based on the enlightened preferences hypothesis, we conclude that the news media have an important effect on the outcome of Presidential elections–-not due to misleading advertisements, sound bites, or spin doctors, but rather by conveying candidates’ positions on important issues.